E-commerce drives Russia warehouse vacancy to record low

By bne IntelliNews February 1, 2013

Ben Aris in Moscow -

The demand for warehouse space from e-commerce companies in Moscow has gone from nothing in 2011 to account for 13% of demand in 2012, helping to drive down the availability of warehouse space to a record low.

Russia's real estate sector in general is still suffering from a post-crisis hangover. Residential construction is not doing too badly thanks to stable home prices, the increasingly availability of mortgages and steadily rising incomes throughout the crisis period. The total value of residential completions in Moscow in 2012 was up 2.4% to RUB5.712tr ($190bn), according to Rosstat, while the volume of housing grew faster to reach 65.2m square metres (sqm), a 4.7% increase on year.

But the office part of the business is doing a lot worse. There was a serious bubble in office construction in the run-up to the 2008 crash where space could be flipped at a healthy profit in less than a week and rents went through the roof. Developers are still recovering from the party and new completions of offices in 2012 in Moscow fell to a record low of 557,000 sqm, down 33% year on year - the lowest level in the last decade.

Like residential, warehouse construction has been bolstered by robust consumer demand and Russians' love of shopping. New completions of warehouses also fell in the last quarter of 2012 to 124,000 sqm, a huge 40% drop from the year before, but unlike the office market demand for warehouse space remains very strong. The total new supply of warehouses for 2012 in the Moscow Region measured slightly more than 592,000 sqm, slightly down on 2011. But despite the falling volume of new space demand, all the warehouses completed remained in demand; almost all the projects were sold or leased before completion, according to industry experts.

Demand is expected to increase this year and run well ahead of completion of new space on the back of rising consumption. Already vacancy rates for warehousing have fallen to 0.65% - the lowest levels in the last five years, according to a January report from real estate experts Jones Lang LaSalle.

Retail trade grew 5.9% in 2012 with total turnover at $670bn, according to Rosstat. Analysts expect the rate of growth to continue at a similar rate in 2013. "A notable deficit of standing warehouses continued for 2012. While we expect new completions in 2013 to exceed the 2012 level by 50% [0.9m-0.95m sqm], we do not expect demand to subside or the supply deficit to be resolved," says Ilya Vydumkin, head of industrial research for Russia and CIS ay Jones Lang LaSalle, wrote.

But the biggest change in the warehousing sector is the rapid demand from Russian e-commerce companies, which enjoyed a 30-50% growth in sales in 2012. Demand for warehousing space by e-commerce companies has jumped from nothing in 2011 to account for 13% of total demand in 2012 alone, says Vydumkin.

The lack of warehousing has led many of the leading e-commerce companies to build their own warehouses and the lack of reform of Russia's postal service (just starting now) also spurred most of the top companies to set up their own distribution systems. As punters typically start buying things online three years after being hooked up to the internet and online shopping only matures after about seven years, given that the Russian online population only reached saturation point in 2012, Russian e-commerce companies say that the bulk of the growth will start in the next few years.

The e-commerce market was worth $12bn in 2012, according to industry estimates, and is expected to grow to at least $80bn by 2020, according to Oskar Hartmann, CEO of leading daily deal website KupiVIP.

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